The sketching mind

Class 1/6 — April 29th 2014 —

The assignment was kicked off with a keynote introduction in which I explained the importance of putting in the time to make sketching second nature. Learning the sketching skill is like learning to write in a new language. You can’t make poetry unless you are fluent in the language. The same is true for sketching. I also explained how a distinction between an exploratory- and a communicative mindset may help you in the development of your skill. Goal of this assignment is to help you reach the tipping point in your confidence so you can start making use of the value of sketching in your projects as soon as possible.

exploratory sketching8

We then took a baseline measurement of your sketching skills by spending 10 minutes on the following exercise:

exploratory sketching15

The most preferred materials to work with where (not surprisingly) a grey graphite pencil and an eraser.

Most of you found this exercise very hard. We discussed the results and noticed the differences in terms of viewpoint, contrast, storyboards, style, etc. I’d say there’s room for some improvement for everyone!

exploratory sketching16

To prepare for the next exercise we practiced quick, small sketches of people in different poses.


The sketchbattle is an exercise that will force you to sketch very quickly without worrying about the quality of the sketch. You have to respond immediately to a series of problems presented to you . You do this by sketching your ideas in such a way that your opponent quickly understands your intentions. The sketchbattle is a good example of sketching with an exploratory mindset.

An example of a sketchbattle can be found here.

This exercise demonstrates the importance of choosing the mindset that supports the primary goal of the work session. For efficient development of ideas within a creative process you should use the exploratory mindset. To explain and sell your (best) idea(s) to others you should switch to the communicative mindset.

You battled twice in pairs using highly efficient sketching techniques: simple, small and using only one medium (black felt-tip pen). The results were copied so each one of you can finish the page individually.

We continued the class by working on arrows and other storytelling elements such as backgrounds, shading, contrast, outlines, text and titles.


As demonstrated in class, you can introduce contrast and add text, arrows and frames to the most interesting actions (ideas) to create a powerful presentation from a page that previously looked like a chaotic mess.

Instead of adding color to the individual objects it is more effective to start with a background. Make sure to use the same (light) color in every sketch and apply the marker in a loose way leaving enough white space for the sketches to ‘breathe’. Add more contrast by making the outline of the objects heavier. Careful not to overdo the width of the outline in respect to the size of the sketch. The outline is (solely) the line that separates the foreground from the background. In addition you should look at overlapping objects and also use a heavier stroke on the overlapping elements.

Remember that you are trying to communicate something. Therefor you will need to reduce the chaos (noise) and bring tranquility to the page. Try not to use too many different colors. Stick with one light background color and use grey for shading.

Frames can be used to group individual actions and make them part of the same story.

Include a title to inform your audience about what they are looking at.

I demonstrated application of the same principles on a copy of one of your sketchbattle’s. In product design this can be applied to communicate the results of a brainstorm session.

Also take a look at the examples of the previous quartiles.

To do for the next class

exploratory sketching_to do

Practice all techniques covered in this class.

Battle twice more over a subject of your own choice. Finalize all pages by using the storytelling techniques from today’s class and highlight two actions on each page.

Practice arrows (explore) and draw conclusions on the same pages (communicate).

Using copies of your original sketches enables you to practice storytelling techniques without ruining the original.

Collect and print (A4) several images of people as reference material for next class. Preferably the people should be performing an action and should be visible from head to toe.



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